Funding-surge for blogger in Singapore PM’s defamation case



By Ivan Lim
Former AJA President, Contributor to AsiaN

SINGAPORE: Critics have decried the outcome of a defamation case in which a political blogger has been found to have impugned the reputation and integrity of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in an article.

Mr Terry Xu, chief editor of The Online Citizen (TOC), has been ordered by the High Court to pay $210,000 in damages to the Singapore leader.

Yet the impact of the verdict and the penalty has been overshadowed by a groundswell of crowd-funding support for the blogger, who is being viewed by sections of the public as an underdog.

As at September 5, S$127,380.76 in donations had been raised for Mr Xu. The sum rose to $136,188.96 on September 7, he said. The donations –ranging from S$0.01 to S$3,838 — came from 1,419 individuals.

The total donations account for 65.15 per cent of the S$210,000 awarded to the Prime Minister by the High Court, made up $160,000 in damages and $50,000 in aggravated damages. The legal cost and other fees have yet to be determined.

According to Mr Xu, some donors have sent messages saying, “they are giving up certain priorities in their life in order to contribute to the fundraising, and took time off their schedules just to deposit the money in my account.”

‘’Singapore politicians have to realise the era of intimidation through the use of lawsuits and bankrupting their opponents is over,” he said.

The Singapore leader had sued Mr Xu and the writer of the article, Ms Rubaashini Shunmuganathan, after it was posted on Aug 15, 2019, in the TOC website.

The article in question has to do with PM Lee’s fallout with his younger brother Hsien Yang and sister Wei Ling over the disposal of the Lee family mansion as set out in the will of their father, the late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

The article was headlined “PM Lee’s wife Ho Ching weirdly shares article on cutting ties with family members.’’ It also referred to an earlier post by Dr Lee Wei Ling that mentioned that their father had been misled by PM Lee into believing the family house at 38, Oxley Road had been gazetted by the Government, causing him to change his will to bestow the house to PM Lee.

In her written judgement on September 1, Justice Audrey Lim referred to the ‘repetition rule’ whereby repeating a libellous or defamatory statement made by another is “just as bad as making the statement directly”.

Stating the court must ultimately consider what the offending words would convey to the reader, she  ruled that the offending words did not merely target PM Lee’s “personal integrity, character and reputation,” but had also placed “his moral authority to lead Singapore” at stake.

“This struck at the heart of (PM Lee’s) personal integrity and could severely undermine his credibility, not just personally but also as PM and call into question his fitness to govern with integrity,” said the judge.

She rejected Mr Xu’s defence that the allegations in the article were true and without malice.

”On the contrary, the evidence shows that (PM Lee) had supported Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s wishes to demolish the house as he wanted to respect his father’s wishes.

“The evidence also shows that that (PM Lee) was at the same time concerned that the family should not profit financially from the redevelopment of the site to avoid the perception that the house was being demolished and the site redeveloped for financial gain.”

Justice Lim further said that PM Lee had informed Mr Lee Kuan Yew it was likely that the Cabinet would wish to preserve the house if the matter came before it.

She added that it was more likely than not that Mr Lee Kuan Yew, after learning of the Cabinet’s and his children’s views on the matter, had decided to bequeath the house to PM Lee for him to manage any political or public issues relating to the property.

Mr Lee Kuan Yew had sent an email to Ms Ho that the house should be willed to PM Lee. The email was copied to his children and daughter in-law, Mrs Lee Suet Fern, wife of Hsien Yang.

Mr Lim Tean, who represented Mr Xu in the trial, said his client had one month to decide on whether to appeal.

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